By Dr Rossi Volger, Senior Consultant, Skills Systems, British Council

Since the launch of the SDGs the term ‘inclusion’ has become a buzzword on the international development agenda, and ensuring no one is left behind has put inclusive education and labour systems at a new level of attention for policy makers, bi- and multilateral donors and civil society. The agenda has gained even more momentum at this time as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have widened the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, with those who need the most support experiencing the biggest education and work losses.

In this respect, in the UK and in many of the countries in which we work there is an increased interest in the role of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in addressing the inclusion agenda. Inclusion (not only of disabled peopled, but of any group subject to exclusion) is a key cornerstone of TVET, maybe more so than other types of education functioning as it provides both - a first choice and a second chance. Due to its direct link to the labour market, it plays an important role as an enabler for social mobility by helping young people and adults transition to employment.

No doubt TVET has the potential to empower disadvantaged groups, but for this to be effective TVET systems need to be inclusive. What makes a TVET system inclusive is a complex and challenging issue. Our research Inclusion of Refugee in TVET: an exploration into funding, planning and delivery showed that for a TVET system to be inclusive it has to be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptive to the specific needs of the groups you want to include.

The only way to consistently and cohesively ensure this is by adopting a systemic approach and considering a range of issues. This includes:

  • identifying vulnerable groups and underlying barriers to inclusion
  • exploring the legal frameworks and the role of the policies and strategies that promote the development of an inclusive TVET system
  • understanding the link to specific practices which make TVET programmes inclusive (including curricula and learning materials and assessment; pedagogical approaches; campus infrastructure; college policies; career guidance and counselling; financial and other sources of adjustment support); 
  • identifying obstacles to the implementation of programmes and relevant measures to remove these as well as the appropriate monitoring mechanisms to address exclusionary factors facing particular groups.

To help understand the factors affecting inclusion in TVET and to build an evidence base for a system reform we have created an online system’s self- assessment tool, which provides a practical and easy-to-navigate instrument for carrying out an analysis of the status of TVET in respect of refugees’ inclusion. The tool is designed to assess the inclusiveness of refugees, but the methodology for the system analysis is universally applicable. It can be applied in any country as initial analysis or to trace progress over time or to compare across different countries.

In order to identify suitable measures to support inclusive TVET it is important that all relevant stakeholders are involved, and that they view enabling inclusion as a key element of their remit. Ensuring adequate conditions to foster inclusion and suitable funding mechanisms that incentivise desired behaviour requires a concerted strategy and shared effort. It is a multi-stakeholder challenge, which calls for a mix of public spending and policy incentives paired with shifts in educational practice and business practices, in which businesses take the lead by promoting a culture of inclusion in hiring, providing vocational education, reskilling, upskilling, and creating inclusive working conditions. Positive experiences about inclusion are powerful, they have the potential to spread beyond the learning and working environment and influence families and communities. Therefore along with the policy makers, education leaders, training providers and employers the disadvantaged groups themselves are a key stakeholder in shaping and supporting change, as our research Disabled people’s inclusion in TVET has shown.

Finally, understanding and aligning TVET to the local context is crucial for ensuring the success of the inclusive practices. Our study Developing Skills Programming Through a Gender Lens identified how insufficient attention to local context can lead to women gaining skills in ‘traditional’ sectors, that are already saturated, bringing low returns on investment. On the other hand, it demonstrated how the use of gender targets and financial incentives for women’s training and job placement; tackling occupational segregation; building the capacity of employment services to place women; training subsidies and internships with stipends; tax benefits for women starting businesses and specific job creation programmes can be particularly effective.

As mentioned at the beginning the effects of the lockdown have widened the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged accentuating existing vulnerabilities in the education and labour systems and deepening the socio-economic inequalities around the world. Therefore, the recovery from Covid -19 needs to place inclusion at the heart of any economic and social measures raising fundamental questions regarding education and training approaches and priorities. The need for upskilling and reskilling people puts TVET in the spotlight and provides an opportunity for a system transformation that is truly inclusive and aligned.  Only when education policy and practices and labour market systems are inclusive for all groups, can sustainable growth and prosperity can be achieved.